Pacers to face The Monster again
As the Indiana Pacers prepare for the NBA playoffs, which start on Sunday afternoon on the road, I couldn’t help but think of the 30 for 30 ESPN documentary “Survive and Advance,” which tells the story of North Carolina State shocking the world and winning the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball championship. In it, NC State guard Dereck Whittenburg calls 7-4 Virginia center Ralph Sampson, “The Monster.”
After beating Virginia on their way to winning the ACC championship, the only way the Wolfpack could make the tournament as they lost 10 games during a disappointing regular season, they had to face Virginia in the NCAA Regional final.
“Here comes The Monster again,” said Whittenburg. “And this time he’s mad.”
But somehow Whittenburg and his teammates somehow beat the Cavaliers and one of the greatest players in NCAA history twice over a span of a couple of weeks.
The Pacers will be faced with a monster of their own in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending Eastern Conference champion and NBA champion in 2016.
Game one starts at 3:30 p.m. in Cleveland.
The Pacers will have to beat the James gang four times over the next couple of weeks.
Can it be done? I have not looked at the odds in Vegas, but I am sure they are not good.
But then again, the bookmakers and virtually every pro basketball analyst said the Pacers would win 30 after trading disgruntled Paul George to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis last summer.
Oladipo played like the No. 2 pick he was a few years ago out of IU, earning a much-deserved All-Star berth and making game winning shots George only makes in commercials.
Sabonis showed the savvy and toughness that his old man displayed while playing for years in Portland.
He led the Pacers in rebounding playing off the bench, making us wonder if he is the center of the future.
Indiana surprised the critics and won 48 games and lost 34, fifth in the East and matching the record of Oklahoma City, with Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony.
They won 21 road games. It was only the fourth time in the history of the franchise that Indiana had a winning road record (21-20).
They tied Golden State for the league lead with nine winning streaks of three games or more.
At last count, they led the NBA in comeback wins. On eight occasions, they rallied from at least 15 points down to pull wins from the ashes.
They were 10-1 in games decided by three points or less. The Pacers won all three overtime games they played this year.
Coach Nate McMillian won’t get much love for coach of the year, but he has quietly done maybe the best coaching job of his career.
Although the Cavs have had more makeovers this year than any leading lady in Hollywood, the Pacers took three of four during the regular season. But the new-look Cavs are very different than those teams Indiana played before the All-Star break.
With Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, former Pacer guard George Hill, Larry Nance, Jr, Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clark, Tristan Thompson and recently acquired big man Kendrick Perkins to name drop, make no mistake about how good the Cavs are offensively.
So for the fourth time in recent memory the Pacers will be faced with the task of facing a LeBron-led team.
While in Miami, LeBron and his amigos beat the Pacers in consecutive years — 2013 and 2014 — in the Eastern Conference finals.
I can still see LeBron scoring the winning basket of game one in 2013, when then coach Frank Vogel had 7-1 Roy Hibbert on the bench instead of defending the rim.
Last year, the Cavs swept the Pacers in a series where Indiana could have easily won games one and three. Cleveland won 4-0 by an average of four points per game.
But there was that Monster to deal with.
So as fate would have it, James is in the way, again.
The fourth-seeded Cavs will host the fifth-seed Indiana in a best-of-seven series.
Personally I find it a bit ironic that the Pacers have to go through LeBron one more time.
When you have the best player in the world, you are formidable. But the Cavs can be suspect defensively.
If anything, the Pacers are due against LeBron.
Sure, I know that Vegas and the sports pundits give the Blue and Gold no chance to even make it a series.
And why not, The Monster will get the benefit of the doubt on ever whistle and he is still the best player in the world.
They counted out the Pacers in July, October and now in April.
The Pacers, who play like a team not a group of individuals who care more about a paycheck than winning games, will make this a series, unlike what George could do for Indiana last year.
I cannot say that history won’t repeat itself, but the Pacers won’t go out quietly, that I can assure you.
As a fan, it has been one of the most enjoyable years that I can remember. All I can say, don’t count out these underdogs.